The voltage dependence of the steady state inactivation parameter (h infinity) of the sodium current in the squid giant axon is known to be shifted in the hyperpolarizing direction by hydrocarbons and it has been suggested that the shifts arise from thickness changes in the axon membrane, analogous to those produced in lipid bilayers (Haydon, D. A., and J. E. Kimura, 1981, J. Physiol. [Lond.], 312:57-70; Haydon, D. A., and B. W. Urban, 1983, J. Physiol. [Lond.], 338:435-450; Haydon, D. A., J. R. Elliott, and B. M. Hendry, 1984, Curr. Top. Membr. Transp., 22:445-482). This hypothesis has been tested systematically by examining the effects of a range of concentrations of cyclopentane on the high-frequency capacitance per unit area both of the axonal membrane and of lipid bilayers formed from monoolein plus squalene. A similar comparison has been made for cyclopropane and n-butane, both at a pressure of 1 atm. The results are consistent with the notion that thickness increases in the axolemma produce the shifts in h infinity. Except at very high concentrations, however, the thickness changes in the lipid bilayer were too small to account for the h infinity shifts. A possible explanation of this finding is discussed.